Fresh leadership is required at the England and Wales Cricket Board after Ian Watmore stood down as the governing body’s first salaried chair after just 13 months in the role.
The 63-year-old departs citing the toll the position had taken on him personally and the decision – “mutual” in the official media release – is understood to have come after he lost the confidence of the ECB board and a number of the 18 first-class counties.
Certainly the former Football Association chief executive’s final weeks had been tumultuous, with the ECB board widely criticised for the controversial decision to cancel England’s goodwill tour of Pakistan this month and a continuing disagreement behind the scenes over the structure of the domestic game.
On Watmore’s part the demands of leading English cricket certainly changed significantly between his first being named as the successor to Colin Graves in February 2020 and his taking over on 1 September on a five-year, two-days-a-week contract with a £150,000 annual salary before expenses.
Despite coming into cricket from the outside, and combining the role with that of first civil service commissioner, it looked to be a settled period ahead. The ECB was starting a fresh £1.1bn broadcast deal and set to launch a new tournament in the Hundred that would mean the sport’s return to terrestrial television after a 15-year absence.
Instead it turned into a near full-time firefighting role as Covid-19 dominated the landscape and led to losses of £16.5m for the ECB and £100m for the English game overall. The governing body was forced to cut 62 jobs, leading to criticism of its subsequent decision to continue with a £2.1m bonus scheme for leading executives including the CEO, Tom Harrison.
Watmore said: “It is with regret that I step down as chair of the ECB, but I do so in mindfulness of my own wellbeing and that of the game which I love. I was appointed to the post in a pre-pandemic era, but Covid has meant the role and its demands on time are dramatically different to all our original expectations, which has taken a personal toll on me.
“Given this, the board and I feel the ECB will be better served by a new chair to take it forward post-pandemic. Leaving now, at the end of the season, gives the board time to find a new chair to support cricket through the challenges of the 2022 season and beyond.”
Watmore’s departure came 24 hours before the ECB board’s meeting on Friday to sign off on the final details of the upcoming Ashes tour. Barry O’Brien, deputy chair of the ECB, now steps up in an interim capacity and is understood to have been among those board members who moved to oust Watmore.
Such a short tenure means Watmore leaves little by way of legacy and it may be that he is remembered as the chair who served as an initial calming antidote to the more forthright Graves HHbut ultimately oversaw England reneging on a pledge to tour Pakistan. Failing to explain the reason behind that call publicly, despite a recent apology, was seen as a failure in leadership.
Standing down from the ECB means Watmore also loses his spot on the board of the International Cricket Council and it is here where his most significant acts arguably took place, pushing forward the sport’s bid for Olympic inclusion in the 2028 Games and as chair of the governing body’s HR committee.
It was in the latter capacity he moved to sack its chief executive, Manu Sawhney, in July after a review into his management style prompted by allegations of bullying. While Sawhney disputes those claims, the move by Watmore was welcomed by the other members of the ICC executive team.
Of late, he began to lose the faith of their equivalents at the ECB, however, first through the Pakistan decision then last week they received complaints from the counties. It followed a reportedly dysfunctional meeting at Lord’s that was held to map out the future domestic structure.
While O’Brien, the former Glamorgan chair, heads up Friday evening’s key meeting on the fate of the Ashes, the ECB has privately stated he has no designs on the role full time. Instead a process to find Watmore’s successor will begin soon amid a growing belief that greater cricket knowledge is required at board level.
It remains to be seen whether Lucy Pearson, cricket nonexecutive director, and Andrew Strauss, chair of the ECB’s cricket committee, are involved in this new search after the pair oversaw the process by which Watmore was appointed.